One area that writers most frequently ask me to help them with is writing dialogue. Specifically, I get asked how to write “realistic” dialogue. I agree that it’s important for dialogue to sound “natural”, so that the conversation doesn’t appear contrived and conveniently planted to please the plot.
But in my humble opinion, I don’t think “realism” is something you need to aim for in writing dialogue. “Real-life” conversations tend to be haphazard, fragmented, and… boring. Fictional dialogue always has a purpose to fulfil, and information to convey. The dialogues I admire most involve characters using words in clever and succinct ways that in fact more closely resemble an idealised conversation than a realistic one.
That being said, becoming a better listener of messy real-life conversations can make you a better writer of fictional ones. It can also make you a better person!
What are people really trying to say to you?
Use this worksheet to…
- Think back to a conversation you had recently and consider how well you listened to and understood the other person.
- Write out and study a short dialogue from a book or film.
- Write your own fictional conversation. You might like to use the speech bubbles to note down each character’s goals for the conversation
- What do they want the other person to do?
- What do they want to say?
- What do they want to hide?
- What are they unaware of (in their own or in the other character’s speech)?
- Separate the speakers of a conversation (by folding over one side of the worksheet) and study them separately.
- How easy is it to tell the voices apart?
- Who is in charge of the direction of the conversation?
- Is it possible to fill in the other side of the conversation?
- Are there any utterances that don’t convey any information?
P.S. I also have a handy Dialogue Builder & Checklist you can use.